Thursday, June 19, 2014

Sticking to my knitting

For a blog that began its existence as a knitting blog, there's lately been a marked absence of knitting. I have been knitting, quite steadily, but not very productively. And even when I've finished a piece of knitting, I've been very tardy about blocking or recording it. I've not been inspired by any particular project, and as a result much of my knitting has been 'filling-in-time' knitting, using yarns I already own and making something that can easily be picked up and put down. Perhaps predictably, this has resulted in stripes and scarves.

Stripes x 2

Inspired by knitting friend Linda, I knitted a one-row stripe scarf. This is about as simple as knitting can be as it is simply a rectangle of stocking stitch. But it does have a couple of tweaks that make it that little bit different. The one-row stripes are achieved by knitting backwards and forwards on circular needles and sliding the knitting along the needles when needed to achieve the one-row stripes. Effectively, you knit two plain rows, then two purl rows and it results in stocking stitch.

One-row stripes

The fingering weight yarn is knitted quite loosely on 4mm needles so that the scarf drapes well. I already had the yarns; the brown is Wollmeise 100% wool in Feldmaus colour, and the pink Swans Island fingering weight yarn that is 100% merino. Fortuitously, both yarns had a about the same degree of colour variegation which resulted in a nice tweedy outcome. Initially, I experimented with the brown Wollmeise and a toning self-striping yarn but the resulting fabric lost the effect of the stripes and looked rather messy. Because the scarf is stocking stitch all the edges roll - a finish that I really like.

One row stripes 4

I'm very happy with the outcome.

My second stripey project is actually something I really wanted to wear. I've had some grey and black Lush Yarns (now discontinued) for several years. It's an unusual fibre combination - 90% cotton and 10% cashmere - that results in a soft rather than crisp cotton fabric that's ideal for Sydney's climate. I've knitted a Baktus scarf; a tried and true pattern that's garter stitch (my favourite), ideal for stripes, and very easy to wear.

Baktus 4

I simply knitted, increasing every sixth and then every fourth row till I'd used half the yarn, and then knitted on, decreasing to mirror the shape already completed.

Baktus 2

Again, I'm really happy with my rather spiffy new black and grey scarf. I even like the way the stripes are fractured on the reverse side so that I don't have to worry about using it right side out.

Baktus 3

So what am I knitting now? Yet another scarf and yet more garter stitch, though no stripes this time. But more of that once I've finished.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

My final four films

SFF last film

I had a fun finale to this year's Sydney Film Festival with 'Snowpiercer'. Sci-fi is so far from being one of my preferred film genres that I probably found this film more novel than sci-fi aficionados would. I loved the central conceit. In the aftermath of a disastrous intervention to avoid global warming the world has frozen. The only living creatures are those enclosed in a lengthy train propelled by perpetual motion and continually circumnavigating the world. The train is organised into sections - ranging from those in first class whose every whim is indulged to those in the rear of the train where survival is marginal, life degraded, and the periodic desire for revolution inevitable (and encouraged to control population growth). The allegorical possibilities of this arrangement are almost endless. The film is violent, but in the rather abstract way of graphic novels. I was intrigued by the tone of the film - veering from the almost-serious exploration of such themes as the exercise of power and its betrayals to the black humour of the wonderful Tilda Swinton's portrayal of a didactic petty official. It's a mainly English language film featuring a well-known international cast from the UK, USA and Korea and directed by successful Korean director Boon Joon-Ho. Four out of five.

One of the reasons I found 'Snowpiercer' intriguing is its combination of cultural sensibilities. I guess the sci-fi genre is now so internationalised that it enables input from a range of cultural traditions. This blending of cultures was evident in another film I saw - the Chinese film 'Black Coal, Thin Ice' that this year won the Golden Bear at the Berlinale. It's set in the present day, in an industrial town in the north of China. It's winter and there are many grimy, icy streets. Again, this is a genre film. Its director, Diao Yinan has clearly been influenced by the conventions of the urban crime thriller - there's a disillusioned detective who drinks too much, corrupt cops, crime gangs, a mysterious, vulnerable woman who cannot be trusted, and a long-unsolved crime that haunts the disillusioned detective. Despite (or because of) these well-worn devices, setting them in a Chinese context gives new interest to this genre. Again, a four out of five.

I had high hopes for the Australian documentary, 'Black Panther Woman' that features Marlene Cummins who, as a vivacious teenaged Indigenous woman, was associated with the short-lived Australian version of the Black Panther movement in Brisbane (of all places) in the early 1970s. Forty years on, Cummins reflects on this moment in the movement for racial equality in Australia and of the frequent failure to extend the objectives of equality to Indigenous women. It's a delicate balancing act to support and engage with the fight for Aboriginal rights and yet provide a critique of the misogyny within that struggle. The film doesn't quite succeed. It feels a bit too careful; a bit too restrained. Even so, initiating a discussion of these issues is a very brave move for Cummins and the film's director, Rachel Perkins. Three and a half out of four - mainly for its courage.

And then there was 'The Two Faces of January'. Total pleasure. This is a most professional film. Beautiful Greek locations; Viggo Mortensen (sigh); based on a novel of the same name by exquisite crime writer Patricia Highsmith; screenplay and direction by Hossein Amini who waited many years to film a story he loved. What's not to like? The blurb for this film in the Festival program says 'This is a gripping thriller set in stunning locations with beautiful people doing dangerous things'. An apt description. It isn't innovative, but it is a perfectly-made conventional film. I imagine it will have wide commercial release and I would unhesitatingly recommend it to anyone wanting to see a sophisticated, masterly, beautiful, thoroughly engaging film. Four and a half out of five.

Another year of intensive film-going done. As I'm sure I've written before, I really value the opportunity to 'get my eye in'; to see a number of films in a short period of time and appreciate relationships and trends, as well as being able to contrast different traditions and approaches to film-making.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Four more films...

I think 'Locke' is the best film I've so far seen at the Sydney Film Festival. It's innovative, but accessible. A very neat film. It's shot in real time and has one location, the interior of a car, and only one actor, the accomplished Tom Hardy. The central character, Ivan Locke, is a man marked out by his capability. He's a very successful and careful building project manager with a wife he loves and a close relationship with his sons. He has built a life of duty, care and control - the opposite of the feckless father whom he rejected. But a one-night stand with a lonely woman for whom he felt only compassion led to pregnancy and he is driving to a city an hour and a half distant to be with the woman having the child for whom he feels responsible. A series of phone calls on speaker phone is the only 'action' of the film. Locke's life falls apart - both his job and his relationship with his wife crumble as his sense of duty and his desire not to be like his father force him to be with a woman he hardly knows who is fathering his child. It's a quiet tour de force by Tom Hardy and simple but perfectly controlled direction and script by Steven Knight. Another four and a half.

'Two Days, One Night' is a rather old-fashioned social realist film by the renowned French Dardenne brothers, who wrote and directed the film. Marion Cotillard gives a moving performance as Sandra, a woman who over two days and a night needs to persuade her co-workers to support her retention at the factory where she works by giving up their bonuses. As she speaks with each of her co-workers their financial and family circumstances are revealed and the injustice of the choice to be made is clear. This is a moving film with great performances, but it's not engaging film-making. Maybe a three and a half for its performances and its politics.

I didn't really like two of the films I've seen. 'Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter' was beautifully filmed and visually memorable, but there simply wasn't a sufficiently interesting narrative to drive the action or make us care for Kumiko, the central character. It's partly realistic and partly fantastic and for me veered uneasily across these genres. Three out of five. I spent some time wondering why 'Words and Pictures' was scheduled for the Festival as it seemed too light-weight for the Festival context. It's a romantic comedy with predictable characters and a predictable story - designed for viewers who are no longer young but not yet old. It's the kind of movie you might go to on a rainy day if nothing else was offering. It stars Clive Owen and Juliette Binoche who are both charming and who make their way through the film with minimal demands on their otherwise considerable acting skills. But I think I solved the question of why it was scheduled. It's veteran Australian director Fred Schepisi's latest offering and this year Schepisi gave the Ian McPherson Memorial Lecture for the Festival. Despite my admiration for Schepisi, this film only deserves a two and a half out of five.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

More Sydney Film Festival

I've been to see 'The Rover' at the Sydney Film Festival. This film seems to have divided the critics and, even more, the audience. I fall into that part of the division that thinks it's a great film. There were high expectations of Australian director, David Michod, after international acclaim for his first film, 'Animal Kingdom'. He had many international offers of scripts but chose instead to make a film in Australia to his own concept and script. 'The Rover' is absolutely pared down, spare, bleak. It's set in the near future in a world that's not some post-apocalyptic chaos, but the result of a gradual decline of caring and order. A world we can all fear just now. Guy Pearce plays the central character - grim, despairing, murderous, apparently without compassion. Robert Pattinson plays a younger man who has grown up in a grim world and who has no capacity for making moral judgements, other than his desire for connection with others, to guide his decisions. The script is minimal, but sufficient. The acting, especially Guy Pearse, is excellent and the casting of a ragtag of outcast minor characters is excellent. The landscape of interior Australia is not the glorious glowing red of central Australia but a dusty grey-yellow that is perfect for the grimness of the world of despair. I particularly liked the very controlled, slow, and gradual revelation of the backstory of Eric, the character played by Pearse.

Though it's very different from the riotous family ensemble of 'Animal Kingdom' I think the two movies share a horrifying view of what happens when societal conventions are abandoned and the amoral or criminal becomes normal. Michod himself says that he thinks there is a modicum of hope in 'The Rover' that didn't exist in his previous film, but I'm hard-pushed to see any hope at all. For me it's a thoroughly dystopian view of the world that's presented. A warning for our times. Four and a half out of five.

Of course I've seen other films as well - some of them over the weekend in the grandeur of the State Theatre.

State theatre foyer

Director Richard Linklater clearly has a fascination with the effects of time on character. His latest film,'Boyhood' was filmed with the same characters across twelve years as a seven year old grows to a young man. It's a quiet, humane film that charts both the predictable and unexpected developments in a family's life. Four out of five. I was reminded of Michael Winterbottom's 'Everyday' that screened in last year's Festival as he filmed a family's everyday trials over a six year period. Both films are quietly engaging.

'Omar' was a 2013 nomination for a best foreign film Oscar. It's not a perfect film, but certainly deserved its nomination. It's a story of a young Palestinian man confronted by the impossibility of making the right choices when the world around is unjust and irrational. Great performances and a wonderfully filmed urban landscape that echoes the complexities of people's lives. Another four out of five.

What else? 'The Kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq' where controversial French writer Michel Houellebecq plays himself in a whimsical reconstruction of what is rumoured to have happened in a secretive period of his life. Very self-indulgent. Very self-referential. Innovative film-making that is occasionally amusing but ultimately rather trying. Three out of five. And 'National Gallery' - a very beautiful, quite educational, but far too long documentary about London's National Gallery. Much in need of editing. Maybe a three.

Much more to see.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

THAT time of year... SFF!

It's Sydney Film Festival time. My mental image of attending the film festival has me wearing my warmest clothes and making my way to the cinema through wind and rain. However, with this year's freakishly warm weather I'm still wearing summerish clothes and a cotton scarf - though there were at least a few drops of rain on my way home.

I've had a great start to the Festival; a documentary called 'Tim's Vermeer' in which Texas-based inventor and technical whizz Tim Jenison decides to test his theory that the masterly Dutch Golden Age painter, Johannes Vermeer, was not so much an inspired painter as he was an inspired inventor of technologies to aid in the painterly representations of his domestic compositions. Jenison does this not only by building the lenses and mirrors he believes Vermeer might have used, but also by meticulously reconstructing the room in which 'The Music Room' was painted and then using the techniques he ascribes to Vermeer to himself painstakingly recreate the painting. In the process Jenison learns to make and grind glass, turn chair legs on a lathe, grind and mix paints from seventeenth century materials, and paint. Australia's coming rather late to this documentary which has already created discussion and dispute among its viewers, such as the spirited critique in 'The Guardian' by Jonathan Jones that (rightly) dismisses Jenison's resulting painting as vastly inferior to Vermeer's. But such critiques of the documentary miss the pleasure of the film. The film's about Jenison, not Vermeer. It's about the nature of obsession. And it centres on a charming, ironically self-aware, extraordinarily talented, but I'm sure maddeningly focused, modern polymath.

I think Jenison demonstrates that Vermeer could have used the technical aids he demonstrates, but that even so there's an unrivalled genius to his paintings. Whatever. See the documentary and marvel at Jenison and his obsession.

Definitely four stars.